breastfeeding is not normal

time magazine extended breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is a normal biological process. It’s normal for many mothers and children. But it’s far from normal in the U.S. today.

The reaction to Time Magazine’s cover this week demonstrates that.

Any woman who has breastfed past a year could have predicted what people would say. Especially if she’s ever breastfed a toddler in public. Because she’s probably experienced these comments herself, comments that demonstrates our astonishing collective ignorance about breastfeeding.

Doesn’t the milk turn to water after a year? Yes. On your baby’s first birthday, you transform from a mammal that produces milk for her young into Milky the Marvelous Milking Cow, who drinks water and then peees it from her udders. Who wouldn’t want to feed her toddler that?

How can they breastfeed after they have teeth? Obviously, the day your baby gets her first tooth, she turns into a biting vampire. That’s how moms survive on so little sleep. We don’t need sleep. Our babies turned us into vampires.

You’re just doing that for yourself, not your child. Yep. Because I love the feeling of a toddler chewing on one nipple while twisting the other in her fingers and sitting upside down in my lap so she can kick me in the face. It’s like a barrel of monkeys. I just can’t get enough.

No, breastfeeding is not normal to us. In a culture where it was normal, this picture would be cute and sweet, not shocking.

But there’s a reason the mommy wars are so relentless. It’s because mothers can’t win. Because as abnormal as normal breastfeeding looks to most of us, formula feeding is, in some circles, just as shocking. People say equally ignorant things.

Formula is poison. Right. So is alcohol, fast food, coffee, gluten, red dye #40, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, dairy, non-organic meat, and Diet Coke. You’ve probably eaten some of those at some point. You’re still alive.

You just didn’t try hard enough. Yes, well, you didn’t try hard enough to hike the Appalachian Trail, learn Chinese, and become a successful entrepreneur. What, you didn’t even try to do those things? What’s wrong with you?

You’re just lazy and you’re putting yourself ahead of your child. If you’re bottle-feeding a baby. But, of course, this is also true if you’re breastfeeding a toddler. Because you can’t win.

But I can imagine what it would be like if we could all win. If we could really stop judging each other. If we could become blind to methods of baby feeding, and stop even noticing how another woman is feeding her child. Why should you notice or care if I’m breastfeeding my four year old? Why should I notice or care if you’re bottle feeding your four month old? What makes someone else’s parenting (short of abuse) anyone’s business?

Look, in most cases, breastfeeding is the healthiest, most organic, most ecologically-friendly option, just like organic meat and cloth diapers/EC and furniture made from sustainably harvested bamboo. And maybe in an ideal world, we all — or at least most of us — would get to enjoy all those things. But we don’t live in an ideal world. We don’t all have time to do EC. We don’t all have money to buy organic bamboo furniture. And we can’t all breastfeed.

And that’s okay.

Want to know a valid reason for not breastfeeding? Because you and your family don’t want to.

Want to know a valid reason for breastfeeding your preschooler? Because you and your child want to.

So how about we make a deal? How about we all stop even noticing whether another mom is whipping out a boob, a bottle, a sippy cup, or a snack? How about we all stop worrying about other people’s parenting choices? How about we let each family decide on their own version of normal?

How about we agree that we are all doing our best, and that makes us mom enough?

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